Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

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Charles VHoly Roman Emperor and King of Spain
Charles V
Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain

Charles V (Spanish: Carlos I, Dutch: Karel V, German: Karl V.) (24 February 150021 September 1558) is considered (the first) King of Spain though in fact his son was the first to use that title. He was king from 1516 to 1556 (in principle, he was from 1516 king of Aragon and from 1516 guardian of his insane mother, queen of Castile who died 1555, and the co-king of Castile 1516-55, full king 1555-56), and Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556. In Spain, he ruled officially as Charles I, though he is referred to by the ordinal he used as Holy Roman Emperor more often. He was the son of Philip and Joanna of Castile. His maternal grandparents were Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. His paternal grandparents were Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and Marie, Duchess of Burgundy.

Charles V's reign also introduced the first documented use of the styles of His Majesty or His Imperial Majesty.


Family and nationality

It is hard to say what nationality Charles really held. He was a Habsburg on his father's side, but he was not German. His mother tongue was French, that being the language of the aristocracy in the Low Countries (modern-day Benelux and the French région of Nord-Pas-de-Calais), where he grew up. In his youth, he made frequent visits to Paris, then the largest city of Western Europe, which he thoroughly enjoyed, like most aristocrats of his day. In his words: "Paris is not a city, but a universe" (Lutetia non urbs, sed orbis). He also famously said: "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." Though his first language was French, in which he was known as Charles Quint (Charles the Fifth), he was a lifelong enemy of the Kings of France. His mother was Spanish, and Spain was the core of his kingdom, but he himself was not Spanish. He probably felt more at home in the Low Countries where he had spent his youth. In Spain, he always felt a foreign prince, and he was never totally assimilated.

Early life

Charles was born in Ghent and brought up in the Low Countries until 1517, where he was tutored by Adrian of Utrecht, later Pope Adrian VI. His three most prominent subsequent advisors were Lord Chièvres, Jean Sauvage, and Mercurino Gattinara. In 1506, on the death of his father, Charles inherited the Low Countries and Franche-Comté. After the death of his grandfather Ferdinand in 1516, Charles became joint-king of Castile with his mother Joanna of Castile (who was insane), and also inherited Aragon, Navarre, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia from his grandfather, and Castilian dependencies Granada and Spanish America (in the latter overseeing the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas, led by the Spanish conquistadors). Upon arriving in Castile and dismissing the regent Cardinal Cisneros, he had to fight the Castilian War of the Communities against the cities and petty nobles who disliked his appointment of Flemings for Castilian offices. He eventually won and from then on Castilian Cortes were keen on conceding him the vast resources needed for the numerous wars he waged in Europe. After the death of his other grandfather, Maximilian, in 1519, he inherited Habsburg lands in Austria and was elected Holy Roman Emperor on June 28, 1519.

Pation of the palace Charles V in Granada
Pation of the palace Charles V in Granada

He married the Infanta Isabella in 1526, sister of John III of Portugal, who had shortly before married Catherine, Charles's sister.

He actually did not have a distinct nationality. He was believed to have had an affair with one of his servants and is said to have two illegitimate children with her. He was: the Holy Roman emperor, duke of Austria, duke of Milan, ruler of Franche-Comte; grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella on his mother's side and thus king of Spain; king of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, and ruler of all the Spanish possessions in the New World

Wars against France and the Reformation

Plus Oultre on a gable of a Flemish house in Ghent, Charles V's birthplace
Plus Oultre on a gable of a Flemish house in Ghent, Charles V's birthplace

Charles V initiated many wars with France during his reign, first fighting against them in Northern Italy in 1521. Later in the Italian Wars, in 1527, his troops sacked Rome, causing Charles some embarrassment but enabling him to keep the Pope from annulling the marriage of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon, who was his aunt.

As Holy Roman Emperor, he called Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521, promising him safe conduct if he would appear. He initially dismissed Luther's idea of reformation as, "An argument between monks". He later outlawed Luther and his followers in that same year but was tied up with other concerns and unable to try to stamp out Protestantism.

In a war supported by Henry VIII of England, in 1525, in the battle of Pavia, Charles captured François I of France, because one of noblemen of Empire, Cesare Hercolani, hurt the horse of the king. So Hercolani was named "the victor of the battle of Pavia" and Charles forced Francis to sign the Treaty of Madrid, in which France renounced her claims to northern Italy. When he was released, however, François I had the Parliament of Paris denounce the treaty, because it had been signed under duress. The 1529 Treaty of Cambrai (signed with France) and the Peace of Barcelona (with the Pope) confirmed Charles as Holy Roman Emperor and also allowed him to keep the lands he had acquired in Italy.

1524 to 1526 saw the Peasants' Revolt in Germany and the formation of the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League, and Charles delegated increasing responsibility for Germany to his brother Ferdinand while he concentrated on problems abroad.

Wars against the Ottoman Empire

"Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg", painted in 1548 by Titian
"Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg", painted in 1548 by Titian

He had been fighting with the Ottoman Empire and its sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, for a number of years. The expeditions of the Ottoman force along the Mediterranean coast posed a threat to Habsburg lands and the peace of Western Europe. In Central Europe, the Turkish advance was halted at Vienna in 1529, which they besieged unsuccessfully. In 1535 Charles won an important victory at Tunis, but in 1536 Francis I of France allied himself with Suleiman against Charles. While Francis was persuaded to sign a peace treaty in 1538, he again allied himself with the Ottomans in 1542. In 1543 Charles allied himself with Henry VIII and forced Francis to sign the Truce of Crepy-en-Laonnois. Charles later signed a humiliating treaty with the Ottomans, to gain him some respite from the huge expenses of their war.

The Council of Trent and other reforms

In 1545 the opening of the Council of Trent began the Counter-Reformation, and Charles won to the Catholic cause some of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. He also attacked the Schmalkaldic League in 1546 and defeated John Frederick, Elector of Saxony and imprisoned Philip of Hesse in 1547. At the Augsburg Interim in 1548 he created a doctrinal compromise that he felt Catholics and Protestants alike might share. A more permanent settlement followed with the 1555 Peace of Augsburg.

Charles V on a Spanish stamp
Charles V on a Spanish stamp

In 1549 he made the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands (Low Countries) an entity separate from both the Empire and from France (the "Pragmatic Sanction of 1549").

In 1550, Charles convened a conference at Valladolid in order to consider the morality of the force used against the indigenous populations of Spanish America.

In 1555, his mother, the Queen of Castile, died. Thus, he finally obtained the full kingship of that country.

Abdication and later life

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In 1556 Charles abdicated his various positions, giving his personal empire to his son, Philip II of Spain, and the Holy Empire to his brother, Ferdinand. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste (Extremadura, Spain) and is thought to have had a nervous breakdown. In the last two decades of his life he suffered from gout. He died in 1558. His grandson, king Philip III of Spain buried the emperor in the Royal Pantheon of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, northwest of Madrid.

See also

External link

Preceded by:
Ferdinand II
King of Aragon, Majorca and Valencia
Count of Barcelona

Succeeded by:
Philip II
King of Naples and Sicily
Preceded by:
King of Castile and Leon
Preceded by:
Philip I
Duke of Brabant, Guelders, Limburg, Lothier and Luxembourg
Count of Artois, Burgundy, Flanders, Hainaut, Holland, Namur, Zeeland and Zutphen

Preceded by:
Maximilian I
Holy Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Ferdinand I
Archduke of Austria
Duke of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola
Count of Tyrol

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